Outdoor swimming in Belgium / log #005
Finding a place to swim in Belgium can be complicated, especially during winter. However, in summer there's enough to discover. I'm sharing my favourites.
In Belgium, wild swimming is famously forbidden unless stated otherwise, and otherwise is not often stated and not in many places. So swimming here is not great, but it’s not a hell hole.Once you look closer, you can find lidos and spots where swimming is possible, with surprisingly nice outdoor facilities. Suffering from the winter blues, I wanted to share my favourites already. Let’s hope May gets here soon.
Outdoor swimming in Belgium
As mentioned before, wild swimming is a problem because of local regulations. Officially, you’re not allowed to go into lakes, streams or even the sea, unless there is a sign, a flag and sufficient lifeguards on site. And in summer, places where swimming is legal can be crowded, because of the limited amount of facilities. Yet there are some great places to visit. Be aware, these are mostly only available from May to September.
Lidos in Belgium:
One of my all-time favourites is lido Abdijkaai in Kortrijk. This place offers multiple outdoor pools, waterslides, food and deck chairs. The main buildings are from the 1930s and the brick is so bright and cheerful in the summer. On sunny days, you might want to book a ticket in advance.
A small local lido can be found in Hamme. A scenic 30 kms bike ride from Antwerp, this is an excellent place for a day trip.
Antwerp also has its own lido: De Molen, hidden in between camping facilities and the old school restaurants on Sint Anneke’s plage. I enjoy swimming here in May and September, when it’s quiet (and maybe a little cold for untrained swimmers.) The fact that the bassin is built on ground level, instead of dug into the ground, floating here gives you a very wide view on the sky.
Former industrial giant Charleroi houses a beautiful contemporary outdoor pool, Charleroi-les-Bains. I have to admit, I have not had the chance to visit this one yet, but I’m looking forward to this summer to go check it out.
An indoor and an outdoor pool can be found in the hills surrounding Spa. Unfortunately, this facility is currently under renovation.
Ponds and streams:
A place I have visited many times is Boekenberg pond. This is my favourite local place for a swim, in Deurne (north of Antwerp.)
Rather than a typical pool, this is a bright green pond in scenic Boekenberg park. During summer, it’s open to the public daily.
A day on the beach, but without the salt water? Near Mechelen you can visit Hofstade, a historical place to bathe and spend days in summer. The reservoir has a beach with lots of facilities, including multiple playgrounds and a sports history museum. The area surrounding the reservoir is also great for a walk.
Similar places can be found near many cities in Belgium, for example De Ster in Sint Niklaas, De Nekker in Mechelen en De Gavers in Geraardsbergen. But I like Hofstade better.
In Bruges, swimmers and architects worked together to offer city swimming in the Coupure. A chance to see the city from another perspective. There are also yearly swimming events, via Brugse Ijsberen.
Most Belgian cities are now looking to offer swimming zones. An early adopter is Mechelen with its Keerdok. In the nearby future, Leuven, Antwerp and Brussels will hopefully follow.
Advocating for outdoor swimming is done in Brussels by the persistent crew of Pool is Cool. With their cheerful campaigns and their own outdoor pool Flow, they are raising awareness about Belgium’s lack of pro-swimming policies and its pour facilities.
Belgium’s seaside cities and towns offer access to the North Sea. Get inspiration for a cold dip from Ostend based crew of Zwammadammen.
No longer swimmable, but worth a visit
Hofstade, mentioned above, also used to have an art deco swimming pavilion. Hopefully this will be restored in the future, currently it is hard to reach.
In Mechelen, you can have dinner at Ouwen Dok, their former pool.
In cultural center De Singel in Antwerp, you can check out site specific art works, including a pool from Dominique Gonzalez Foerster.
On the north side of the city of Antwerp, you can find former swimming pond Noordkasteel. Although currently difficult to enjoy because of construction of Oosterweel, this used to be a very enjoyable area for a picknick on a sunny day.
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During winter it is open for club members only, new members can join in January each year. Deurnese Ijsberen.
Indoor facilities will be added in the upcoming years, a 50m pool and a wave pool for surfing, via VRT
Belgium also has an advocacy group for outdoor swimming: https://www.outdoorswimming.be/ They offer a map with all outdoor facilities.